LAWRENCE WRIGHT IS not only an excellent journalist but a brave man, if what he says about the Church of Scientology's pattern of subjecting its critics to intimidation, vilification, and worse is true...and I'm not saying it is, mind you, as the last thing I need right now is to be intimidated, vilified, or worse by the Church of Scientology. But he seems to have done his work.
I think I picked this up partly because I was fascinated by Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master and partly out of a lingering interest in home-grown American religions, initiated by reading Harold Bloom's The American Religion many years ago and recently boosted by Laurie Maffly-Kipp's Penguin anthology, American Scriptures.
At the end of the day, though, L. Ron Hubbard just does not seem to have the true mad village visionary gleam of Joseph Smith, say, or Mary Baker Eddy, or Ellen White. Scientology looks to have been 100% American High Hokum from the outset: a little self-help, a little gadgetry, a little science fiction, a little of the "unleash your hidden powers" appeal from those tiny little ads in the back of the pulpier of those old "men's magazines," like True or Argosy.
Clever of him, though, to set up shop in southern California, where the talented and good-looking arrive in flocks, badly in need of some confirmation that they are special and unique, daily subject to doubts and fears and various humiliations, and willing to pay whatever it costs to get to that psychological place where they can unleash their hidden powers.
I could be wrong, of course. Perhaps some day Hubbard will be up there with Smith, Eddy, and White--in some ways, he's exactly the messiah we deserve.